To me, KL (Kuala Lumpur) seems like a perfect city for expats. Granted, it is the only city I’ve been an expat in, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. But I wanted to talk about why I love living in KL and to include some of my pictures of this city that I haven’t posted (since my blog has been mainly about travel lately). And to be fair, I will include some annoyances I’ve had living here, too. 🙂
Read on for pros and cons of KL life!
Food is the most obvious pro of visiting/living in Malaysia, and the locals are proud of it. Because of the diversity of the population, there is a diversity of food, and it’s all delicious. And cheap. I eat out for basically every meal and am always super satisfied. You can find absolutely any kind of Asian food as well as decent Western food.
Cost of living is very inexpensive (compared to the US and other Western countries). The ringgit to USD is about 4 to 1 and a lot of times things are actually 4 times cheaper. Here is an example that’s fresh in my mind: This weekend my coworkers and I ate out at Din Tai Fung, an awesome Taiwanese Michelin starred restaurant. We ordered drinks, dessert, and stuffed our faces – we split the bill and each paid about 10 USD.
I always mention this point to people who have traveled around SE Asia. Cities in SE Asia all have a certain ‘feel.’ KL undoubtedly has this feel too, but it’s also pretty developed, especially around the city center/KLCC. So, I tend to describe KL as this great hybrid of SE Asian culture and Western development. You get cheap prices and interesting food and culture, but also all of the comfort and amenities of somewhere like the US. For example, I can easily get a 3 USD meal, but I can also easily get food and laundry delivered to me via an app. It just depends where you go.
Travel is cheap from KL. Airasia is a super cheap and far reaching budget airline headquartered in KL, so travel anywhere is easy. I’ve traveled roundtrip to Australia for about 200 USD, to Thailand for less than 40 USD, internally in Malaysia for 20 USD, and so much more…and often times you can get these types of prices by booking just a few days ahead of time. Besides Airasia, there are a lot of other options as well. There is also a convenient airport train that I really like.
There are three main ethnic groups in Malaysia: Malays, Chinese, and Indians. It’s quite cool to live in an Asian city where their cultures coexist. You can see pretty mosques, Hindu and Chinese temples alike throughout the city. And of course, you can learn about all three of these cultures by living or visiting here (and try all their food 😉 ).
Local people here are kind and really friendly. It is helpful that most know English, too. They always genuinely want you to be enjoying yourself here and are curious about where you’re from. Plus, there is a big expat population here in KL. I’ve been able to make friends with people from all over the world – Australia, UK, Poland, Malaysia, France, the US, and more 😀
There are loads of huge malls here in KL. Some are fancy, but you can also find more affordable ones. Seriously, there are a ton. They are a main place to hang out (for aircon), eat good food, and for me, also to run errands (and shop too much!). It’s a shopper’s paradise here.
Maybe because my parents are in the medical field, but I kind of really enjoy going the doctor (as long as it’s not super serious). And the medical care here is so quick and amazing. I’ll miss it a lot. The doctors are top notch and way more accessible and less expensive than where I visited in the US. It helps that I have great insurance here so I visit one of the best private hospitals (Gleneagles). I have gotten sick/injured a lot more than when I was in the US, probably due to so much travel, but it’s always been a way quicker, cheaper, and a way better experience than I would have had in the US.
KL has a big amount of tourists, so there are of course a decent amount of tourist attractions. Malaysia and KL aren’t quite as heavily visited by backpackers as places like Thailand, but that makes the tourism more pleasant in my opinion. There are lot of pretty parks, and the highlight of course is the architecture (Petronas twin towers!). There are quite a few cool districts and neighborhoods to explore (Chinatown, Brickfields, Bukit Bintang, Bangsar) and some good nightlife as well.
This is pretty subjective, and I have a love hate relationship with the weather here. It’s always around 90 deg F and humid. I do like it because it’s consistent – small talk about weather does not exist, because it’s always the same – and the temperature becomes absolutely perfect for walking around at night. And it’s always pool weather!
Let me talk more about that grain of salt I mentioned earlier 😛 I’ll admit I am very fortunate in my situation living in KL. I came here already having a job, an apartment, a good salary and a limited 1 year time frame. I’m single and don’t have anything tying me to a place. I don’t have a car, but uber is cheap. I also have a lot of time off to travel. This combo makes it hard to complain, and I know my situation is pretty ideal, which probably makes me be even more biased to love KL 😉 But I know others love it too!
Although Malaysia is fairly developed, it’s still SE Asia, and there are some inconveniences. A couple main examples – first, Uber and Grab (another ride sharing app) can sometimes be a big headache. Honestly, the majority of the time there is an issue, whether it’s the driver not using the app properly, not going to the right location, or just driving away from you. And since I don’t have a car, I am always trying to get an uber. Second, there aren’t many stores that have everything, like Walmart. So any time I need to get something I have to go walk to the mall and figure out what store would have it. Plus, there is no amazon here, which made life very convenient at home. I’ve definitely adjusted, though!
Rush hour in KL slows to a crawl. I thought Dallas traffic was bad, but now I really miss it. The roads are confusing and inefficient, and people generally disregard traffic rules. There are many times where I’m a bit terrified in the back of my uber, haha. Example: my friend took an uber 5 miles the other day and it took an hour and a half due to traffic. But if you can avoid rush hour and optimize your route, you’ll be okay.
There are ‘wet’ bathrooms here since the majority of people are Muslim. But this makes bathrooms very inconvenient for me…there always puddles on the floor and a wet/dirty toilet seat. And sometimes, when there are only squatters and no toilet paper, you will definitely find me in a below average mood! This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but when you have to go to a wet dirty toilet every day….it is not TMI anymore, it’s annoying fact of life 😛
I’m don’t think that ‘cultural differences’ are wholly considered a con, since I don’t consider any culture to be better than another, and I have learned from these differences. But some of them are a bit negative. I don’t directly experience racism here, but racism is basically institutionalized in Malaysia – the majority (Malays) are favored by the government. So you will hear racist comments sometimes. I always notice places like at work, people in the same ethnic group tend to always eat and socialize with each other. This is a bit different in the younger generation, though. People here are also more probing with their questions. Comments on your appearance, questions about your personal life, how much things cost, religion, and other things that are rude in the US, are all normal here. Specific to my situation, the workplace is a lot more inefficient and communication is difficult.
Although I am treated fine, one downside is that walking around, especially in a not-so-touristy area, I get stared at a lot. I get it, I’m pale and blonde, but it gets very tiring. Occasionally people will ask for my photo, too (usually tourists), which is okay but still always feels weird.
For me it’s been hard to make lasting friendships, but I think it’s the nature of my stint here. I am only here for 1 year and I’m traveling about twice a month, so obviously it will be hard to do that. It’s difficult to hang out with locals from work since they usually live far away (plus they don’t usually drink :P), and fellow expats are also always coming and going. But I have a good core group of American coworkers and still manage to meet plenty of fellow expats and a few locals through clubs, apps, and going out.
I put this in both pros and cons…Con because it’s hot and humid, always, with a couple months of more rain than usual (Nov & Dec). I am always sweaty and sometimes call myself a vampire, because I tend to only go outside at night to avoid the sun! And I find myself seeking out cold weather destinations for travel. But it is bearable.
When it comes down to it, I’ve found that with a positive attitude, you can fall in love with (almost) anywhere that you live. But it’s been especially easy to fall in love with KL. 🙂 The pros definitely outweigh the cons. The only thing I truly miss is my family and friends. Everything you could want or need is in KL, and I will miss the amazing experience of living here 😀 I have only 2 months left! 3 more trips then it’s back to the US and onward to California for me.